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About Potatoes, Codlin Moth and other tips

A wealth of knowledge and interesting tips on gardening are gathered by gardeners over the years and passed onto gardening friends over a talk around the garden, or over a cuppa.

I am in the fortunate position, as a result of my availability to gardeners through my 0800 phone or the Internet to be a catalyst to receive interesting gardening tips, having both the press and my book to pass many of these valuable hints to a vast number of interested gardeners.

Now and then some real pearls of information come to hand, recently an elderly lady gardener from the South Island and the writer spent some telephone time, chatting together.

After sorting out a couple of problems, the lady concerned said, ‘now I will give you a couple of tips’.
The first was in regards to growing potatoes and it is basically similar to the ‘Straw Potato’ information
in my book, Wally’s Down to Earth Gardening Guide, with a neat new twist.

For many years this gardener has being growing potatoes by covering them with Pea Straw but prior to this she not only sprouts them up but also roots them up as well.

The process goes like this, and I am certainly going to do the same this season.

You obtain your seed potatoes and place them in a warm situation such as the hot water cupboard or indoors to get the sprouts to form. Once formed the potatoes are taken outside to ‘green up’ and harden the shoots prior to planting. When that is done you then obtain a bag of untreated sawdust and put a layer of that into a tray. The sprouted seed potatoes are laid in the tray with their sprouts facing upwards and covered with more sawdust. You then drench the sawdust with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) mixed with water at the rate of 20 mls of MBL to one litre of water. Leave the potatoes in the tray for a week or more keeping the sawdust moist. The potatoes will form young roots in the moist sawdust and once this has happened they are now ready to plant. (I was told that this pre-sprouting and rooting up can cut up to 3 weeks off the time it takes to harvest and you can also increase the crop potential.)

Next an area of ground is selected to plant the potatoes and the top crust of the soil is broken only by means of a rake or hoe. Place your favorite potato recipe food straight on the ground in the spots where each potato is to grow. My food selection is; a tablespoon of Gypsum, a small handful of sheep manure pellets, a teaspoon of potash and about half a teaspoon of BioPhos (The natural alternative to super phosphate) This little pile of goodies is covered with a little soil and the sprouted/ rooted potato sat on top of the soil. Next take your pea straw or ordinary straw, tease it out and cover the potatoes with it. As the new shoots come through the straw, add more teased out straw. You keep doing this each time the potato’s shoots break through till you have a layer of straw 200 to 300 cm tall then you let the tops grow free to the sun. The new potatoes will form in the layers of straw, completely clean, free of soil. Later as the plants are reaching maturity you can put your hand into the straw layers and pull out a few of the larger potatoes if you wish, prior to harvesting the crop. On harvesting try to pick the new potatoes out without disturbing the straw too much, also just cut the tops off the potatoes to lay back on the straw after harvesting. Once harvested you now cover the straw and potato foliage with a layer of compost and plant up a crop of greens such as cabbage etc. A side dressing of Rapid Lime should be applied to the cabbages, etc at this time. While the potatoes are growing a spray over the foliage every couple of weeks or so of MBL will also increase the size of the crop and the size of the tubers.
A neat system and one worth trying.

Another excellent use for ordinary straw or hay (Not pea straw) can be used by gardeners with ponds.
After cleaning out your pond for the new season, take a plastic bag, place a rock in the bag and then stuff the bag full of straw or hay. Tie the bag off and then punch a lot of small holes in the bag with a nail or similar. Toss the bag into the middle of the pond and you should find that it will prevent algae forming in the pond for one season. If you have a large pond in a rural setting then just toss a couple of bales of straw into the pond to do the same. Simple and effective.

Now here is a really interesting one in regards to codlin moth which attacks apples, pears and walnuts.
Before I divulge the tip lets look at the pest and how it operates. At this time the moths will be in their cocoons waiting for the right conditions to emerge, mate, and then for the females to lay their eggs on the leaves of your apple tree. This will not happen till young immature apples have started to form.

If you have an apple or pear  tree like I have, well away from any other trees infested with the pest you are unlikely to have any problems for years or maybe never. The pests are very territorial and spend each generation in or near your infected tree. They can infect from next door, but unlikely if the closest infected tree is some good distance away, that is unless a fertilised female is blown by the wind into your garden. This means if you can clean up your neck of the woods you will be clean of the problems for years. There have been numerous ways of reducing the codlin moth problems such as sticky grease bands around the trunk of the trees at this time of the year to catch the moths climbing up the tree.

Corrugated cardboard around the trunk in summer to catch the grubs crawling down the tree. (hard to get the corrugated cardboard these days as the new types are not suitable). Planting lots of highly aromatic plants under the tree to confuse the moths. Placing pheromone traps to catch the male moths and determine the best times to spray. In the past, the chemical Carbaryl was the spray mostly used but this is not longer readily available. (Thank goodness) Neem Tree Oil is the best natural control with several sprays used over the period of time when the eggs are hatching. The spray is applied to cover and protect the young apples. It works in this manner, the grub hatches out of its egg and heads off to the nearest apple where it starts eating its way in. If there is a film of the Neem Tree Oil over the skin of the apple then the grub only gets to take one bite and eats no more. (Anti-feeding properties of the Neem) On maturity all that is noticed is a tiny pin prick scar where the first bite was made.

Now back to our lady gardener in the South Island who told me of a method that she came across 25 years ago and has used it ever since. Over that time she has little or no damage to her crops of apples.

What you do is partly fill a tin or similar container with treacle and hang that in the tree. Apparently the treacle has a similar smell to the female codlin moth’s pheromone and the males race to the tin where they come to a sticky end. (Obviously not the sticky end they had hoped for) The tin will need to have a little more treacle added from time to time during the season and according to our gardening friend, the weather does not effect the results.
She usually hangs the tin by placing it in an onion bag, but last season did not have one of these holey bags, so just hung the tin with cord. Later she noticed that the wax eyes were feeding on the treacle so there is another excellent predator that you maybe able to entice into your garden with a little treacle.

Wax eyes and Fan tails are excellent hunters of pest insects and should be encouraged as much as possible.
My suggestion would be to hang your treacle tins up now, check them every few days, when a number of moths are found then spray the young apples with Neem Tree Oil. Repeat every 7 days or when new batches of moths are noticed in the tin. With any luck within a season or two you should have eliminated the codlin moth from your section and will only have any further problems from neighbor’s infected trees.

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